Modern-Day Holocaust...

A friend recently commented here, that abortion is a modern day holocaust. And that may or may not be true. But it's pretty America-centric to suggest something like that is the modern day holocaust... there's a whole, big, scary, broken world outside:

(CNN) -- "I'm angry at having presided over the first genocide of the 21st century," said Mukesh Kapila, a British doctor and former U.N. official.

Mukesh Kapila said atrocities in Darfur could have been prevented if the world had taken action sooner.

He was referring to what he considers the world's ineffective response to mass atrocities in Darfur, Sudan's western region.

"What happened in Darfur would be classified as obscene," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "It's a combination of a horror movie and a snuff movie."

Kapila was the United Nations' top official in Sudan. He took up his post as resident and humanitarian coordinator in 2003, just a few months after rebels from Darfur's African tribes attacked outposts of Sudan's government, which is led by Arabs.

The government's retaliation was so harsh that a U.N. human rights monitor issued a prophetic warning. His March 2003 report said that in the "escalating conflict," Sudan's government may be "engaged in ... ethnic cleansing aimed at eliminating African tribes from Darfur."

Unfortunately, Kapila says, the report "disappeared into a big hole" because the world's attention was on Iraq, where a U.S.-led coalition had gone to war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime...

Perhaps we need a broader, less-volatile way of speaking about injustices or outrages in our own neighborhood. When (if) the rest of the world is watching, we may look pretty sheltered if we think ours is the only worldview. I think it's important that the American church stop looking at itself as AMERICAN, and begin recognizing itself as Christian. This will take discipline, as we naturally look to the things closest to us. But nothing is more irrelevant than tunnel-vision religious focus that ignores the world for the backyard fence.

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James said...

So it is okay to use volatile language if the injustice is not in our neighborhood? Is it really "America-centric" to call a local horror what it is? I agree that we need to have a more global perspective but we can still call a tragedy a tragedy.

Peter said...

Yes. As I said, it's one thing to call the abortion a modern-day holocaust. But it's not ok to call it THE modern-day holocaust.

David Henson said...

That's just it though. Abortion is not a modern-day holocaust, if you are comparing it to the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.

Abortion is not carried out by the state on a targeted, ethnic group of people. It is a choice made by individuals of all stripes. Calling it a Holocaust (literally a sacrifical, burnt offering) isn't simply volatile, it's completely inaccurate. The Holocaust was genocide, as is what his going on in Sudan. Abortion isn't.

Further, it is insulting to those survivors of the Holocaust by reducing and appropriating their experiences.

I don't mind someone saying it's terrible or horrible. It's just irresponsible to parrot lines about holocaust without critical reflection.

Peter said...

Thanks David, good clarification.

I agree "holocaust" is both unnecessarily inflammatory, AND inappropriately associative with the Nazi's Jewish Holocaust.

BUT, the definition you offered regards sacrifice seemingly related to spiritual/religious appeasement. The Nazi's had no such impetus.

And one definition of holocaust is: "any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life." (

So, it may seem trite or trendy to continue being a self-referential "postmodern," but I feel compelled to acknowledge that different words carry different meanings that are true in simultaneity. This thread isn't a discussion of true and false assumptions about the Holocaust or abortion or what is right and what is wrong. This thread is the working out and parsing of multiple perspectives and vantages on the language of justice concerning human life.

I think.

David Henson said...

You actually hit on the note of controversy that comes with calling the Nazi genocide of the Jews, The Holocaust. Most Europeans actually call it the Shoah, which means disaster or conflagration. That is another conversation, though. Your objection, though, actually proves my point further about the inappropriateness of "abortion as Holocaust." To whom are these "abortions" being offered to. Also, it wasn't a definition I offered, but the actual meaning of the actual word Holocaust, not the connotation it now unfortunately carries of mass slaughter.

Holocaust might have come to mean what says it does, but that doesn't make it necessarily correct, right, just, or ethical. There are many Jewish scholars who are angered by the appropriation of a unique, unprecedented (horrible) experience to every injustice in the world. If you want to talk about language, perhaps we should talk about the overuse of the trope rather than its appropriateness. If everything bad is a holocaust, then it makes us truly forget the unspeakable evil that was the holocaust. What is it that they say about people who forget (or water down) history?

People who refer to abortion as a holocaust are directly trying to link abortion to the slaughter of the Jews by the Nazis as a way of maximizing the issue as one of unspeakable horror. They aren't speaking of holocaust in a general way, but in a very specific way, that is false and inaccurate.

My point is that it isn't a valid comparison; it's an invidious comparison that totalizes and appropriates the suffering of a distinct people during a distinct period of time.

Noting that different words carry different meanings isn't the same thing as confronting the misuse, dangerous and unjust the meaning of words. Unfortunately, the language of justice sometimes requires us to make our own judgments, and this I think is one of those.

To speak about abortion as a holocaust is about as far as one can get from the "language of justice concerning human life." This is what it look likes to consider perspectives outside of white, Christian-centric America, as you implore us to. Sometimes, it involves making a judgment call and not hedging.

Peter said...

David, I'm reposting your comment as its own post. Thanks!

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